While nobody wants to have their travel plans adversely affected by delayed or cancelled flights, but unfortunately it can and does happen.
Knowing where you stand legally is essential if you’re hoping to recoup any financial losses caused by delays, and there are strict guidelines for airlines to follow when flights are delayed.
There are several factors that you will need to consider, but the more that you know and prepare, the more likely that you will succeed.
So, if you have been stuck in the departure lounge for much longer than expected, or you’ve just gone home rather than wait any longer for a late plane, then here’s what you need to know.
At The Airport
There’s nothing quite so frustrating as being stranded at an airport. No matter how big or busy your airport is, they are always expensive and bland. They certainly aren’t where you want to spend your holiday. If you get stuck at Heathrow, Birmingham, or even Newquay airports, then here are the most important things to remember.
- Get Updates: Your airline has a legal obligation to keep you informed about what’s happening with your flight. While you can keep pestering the staff at the check-in desk, the chances are that they will have very little idea about what’s happening. It is much better to get online and do some checking. Look at the social media accounts of your airline to see if there have been any posted updates regarding your flight or use one of the aeroplane tracking websites that can show you in real-time just where your plane is. Plane Finder and FlightAware are popular choices, or there are apps that you can download to your phone that will do the same.
- Delays and Entitlements: If your flight is delayed by more than two hours then your airline is obligated to provide you with food and drink. Even if the delay is not the fault of the airline itself, they will have to cover the costs of your food and drink. The type of flight that you were expecting to be on, and if your flight’s delayed for 2 or more hours, will play a part in what you are entitled to.
If your delay is for a short haul flight, then you become entitled to food and drink if your delay is two hours or longer. For medium-haul flights, your delays must be longer than three hours, and for long-haul flights then you must have been delayed by four hours or more. If the airline does not provide you with food or drink, then it’s a smart move to keep your receipts when you spend your own money. You may be able to get that money back.
Check with your airline’s website for their guidelines on reasonable expenses. You will probably not be able to get your costs covered for a bottle of Jack Daniels or some quality champagne.
If your delay means that you have to wait overnight, then the airline has to provide you with accommodation. They also have to provide you with the means to get to and from your accommodation. Like the food and drink situation, it sometimes falls to you to organise your own transport and accommodation, and in those cases, you should always keep the receipts for any expenses.
- Five Hour Delays: Regardless of the cause, if your flight is delayed by more than five hours then you are entitled to a full refund. While this might not make it any easier to recover from your ruined travel plans, it’s better than losing out on all of that money as well. Remember that if you do opt for a full refund, you will not be entitled to make any further claims for compensation further down the line.
In order to claim compensation for a delayed or cancelled flight, the reason for the delays or cancellation must be the fault of the airline. Although there are general guidelines that must be followed, these are not legally binding, and your airline may have their own set of criteria. Typically, the following reasons for a delay or cancellation are deemed outside of the airline’s control, and will mean that you will be unable to make a claim in most cases:
- Unexpected weather problems (although this can be a grey area depending on what should be expected regarding the weather of your departure or arrival location).
- Strikes, whether it’s air traffic controllers, ground handlers, or airport staff, are not within the control of the airlines themselves, and mean that you will not be able to make a claim.
- Political unrest is not something that airlines can predict or control, and you will not generally be able to claim for compensation in these cases.
- If there are technical issues that are outside of the control of the airline (such as the recent autopilot issues on the Boeing 737 Max) then you will be unlikely to receive compensation.
The rules in the UK concerning flight compensation are governed by EU flight compensation guidelines. If your flight is outside of the EU, then the rules will be different. If you are delayed outside of the EU, then you will need to check to see if the country that you’re in has any similar legislation or guidelines in place. There is always the Montreal Convention that covers all international flights, and although it was primarily designed to address lost luggage claims, it can be used to make a claim for delayed flight compensation too. If your flights are not covered by local guidelines that this might be your only option.
If you think that you may have a good case, then you should always consider making a claim for compensation. They can often take time to process, and airlines will always look for ways to avoid making these payments. Make sure that you know your rights. You might not be able to save your holiday but recouping some of your financial losses might make up for it.
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